Best museums in SW London and Surrey – the ultimate list
Best museums in SW London and Surrey – the ultimate list
London and Surrey boast such an impressive range of renowned museums. Here’s our guide to the very best…
Do you love museums? Everyone loves museums. From small, traditional rooms filled with memorabilia left by people long gone, to world-renowned giants boasting state-of-the-art digital technology, our region really does have it all. Discover the 40 best museums to visit in London and Surrey right now.
Top image: Fulham Palace museum, credit: Giselle Brosnahan
Historic houses and mansions
A residence of the Bishops of London since AD 704, Fulham Palace has seen the royal visits, church pageants and grand parties. Hear sounds of the past in the sensory room and connect with history through the many archaeological artifacts excavated on-site. Gardens are impressive too – explore the second oldest botanic garden in London and get hands on with types of exotic plants Bishop Compton grew at the Palace 200 years ago. You can also book a guided tour for a full historical experience – and to find out who ‘Bloody’ Bishop Bonner was.
Bishop’s Ave, London SW6 6EA
Image credit: Jamie White / Calliope Spathi / Jamie White
A Gothic Revival villa built by none other than the man behind The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole has even given rise to its very own architectural trend called Strawberry Hill Gothic. It really was a very proper residence for a famous Gothic romance author with eccentric interiors and exterior style merging castles with turrets and battlements and cathedrals with arched windows and stained glass. Inside is a fascinating collection of many an object amassed by Walpole (who very bashfully admitted himself: “In truth my collection was too great already to be lodged humbly”); although his complete collection is now dispersed around the globe. Different tours are available, from traditional to a Stained Glass tour to an atmospheric Twilight Tour.
268 Waldegrave Rd, Twickenham TW1 4ST
Dorich – the Brangelina of the 1930s, consisting of Latvian artist Dora Gordine and scholar of Russian art Richard Hare – House is a very special example of a modern studio house created by and for a woman. The Museum now operates chiefly to promote and support female creatives and features many an interesting exhibition, including a significant collection of Russian art and artefacts dating from the 18th century to the early 20th century, as well as, naturally, a collection of Gordine’s paintings, drawings and sculpture. Fascinating events include music performances to sound and art installations.
67 Kingston Vale, London SW15 3RN
Image credit: DHM Photo Ellie Laycock (2nd image)
Clandon Park is unique in the sense of being an actual ruin. In 2015, a devastating fire destroyed many priceless artifacts and exhibits, leaving it essentially a shell. It still can be visited, however – the National Trust claims to have uncovered “a trail of hidden craftsmanship” there – and it truly is fascinating. For example, apotropaic marks, commonly known as witch marks (a sort of demon-busting graffiti) were discovered on the site, as well as traces of the older Jacobean house under the Palladian Mansion. As it is a construction site now, every visit is preceded by a safety briefing, and hard hats and high-vis jackets must be worn.
West Clandon, Guildford GU4 7RQ
Located among the picturesque parkland, Reigate Priory (currently closed for repairs – check website for more info) showcases a range of items and costumes from across the many decades and is designed to be appealing to children and adults alike. Plus, the building of the Priory is gorgeous in and of itself with a magnificent carved oak fireplace (allegedly designed by Hans Holbein himself), 18th Century Staircase, and murals showing scenes from classical mythology.
73A Bell St, Reigate RH2 7AN
The home of Kenyan poet and civil servant Khadambi Asalache, National Trust inherited the building after his death in 2006. With many a unique decoration throughout – primarily, Moorish-inspired fretwork which Asalache cut by hand from discarded pine doors and wooden boxes, as well as illustrations of African wilderness and an impressive collection of 19th-century English lustreware – it is a truly unique house. Places are limited to just 6 people per time slot, so book in advance.
575 Wandsworth Rd, London SW8 3JD
Former home of the “Sage of Chelsea” Thomas Carlyle and his wife (and prolific letter writer in her own right) Jane Welsh, the Carlyle’s House comprises four floors with many fascinating rooms: a romantic parlour immortalised in Robert Tait’s painting ‘A Chelsea Interior’, a sound-proof attic room, and a kitchen with original fixtures and fittings, as well as a small walled garden with a fig tree that still produces fruit, and many fascinating artifacts that belonged to the couple.
24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London, SW3 5HL
Built in 1610, Ham House (and its original owners) witnessed royal treasons, the English Civil War and royalist conspiracies. Today, it remains one of the most lavish Stuart houses open to the public. Retaining much of its original 17th-century interior decoration, it offers an unusual peek into the past, complete with large, famous paintings (including Charlotte Walpole, Countess of Dysart by the “Grand Style” master Sir Joshua Reynolds), crimson velvet and damask wall hangings in the chapel and the truly remarkable Great Staircase. The gardens are beautiful, too, so take a leisurely stroll or book a tour to discover their history and development.
Ham St, Ham, Richmond TW10 7RS
Set in gorgeous wooded parkland, this Neo-Palladian villa was built for Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk (a mistress to George II and Woman of the Bedchamber to Caroline, his wife) and intended as an idyllic retreat from the hustle and bustle of London. On the flip side, it also has a somewhat notorious history of being used as a standard model for plantation houses in the American colonies. It is, however, stunning and now fully restored, can provide a peek into the life in Georgian London. Plus, fantastic events galore, from expert talks and lectures to community picnics and pop-up cinema.
Richmond Rd, Twickenham TW1 2NL
This Edwardian estate is overall drop-dead-gorgeous, from the stunning design in the gold Saloon to its walled rose garden – and fairly so, as it was basically built to impress. It has a bit of royal history, as in 1923, the then-Duke and Duchess of York (later known as King George VI and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) spent their honeymoon on the estate. Left to the National Trust in 1942, it can be now visited with a tour or at your own pace, and there is much to be admired: central hall, dining room, library, saloon, gun room and more are permanently open for the public to see.
Great Bookham, Dorking RH5 6BB
One of the most spectacular palaces ever built, Hampton Court Palace hardly needs an introduction. Originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, it became one of King Henry VIII’s most favoured residences when the former decided to give the palace to the king when he fell from favour. There is much to be admired: the world’s oldest surviving hedge maze, royal tennis court, magnificent chapel, and ten statues of heraldic animals, called the King’s Beasts – not to mention 60 acres of stunning gardens (and whopping 750 acres of parkland).
Hampton Ct Way, Molesey, East Molesey KT8 9AU
Image credit: Historic Royal Palaces
12 Kew Palace
Located within the grounds of Kew Gardens, Kew Palace served as a royal residence from around 1728 until 1818. Now, not many parts of the original construct remain – but those that do are absolutely impressive. Wander the bedrooms of Princesses Elizabeth, Augusta and Amelia, daughters of George III (complete with Princess Elizabeth’s Grecian couch bed) and explore the miraculously preserved royal kitchens and a small kitchen garden – a small remnant of once gigantic Georgian kitchen gardens.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Richmond TW9 3AE
13 Loseley Park
This charming Tudor manor house has been in the possession of one and the same family since early 16th century. They allow visitors and hire it out for weddings – no wonder, as the interiors (and exteriors) are absolutely stunning and feature spectacular exhibits, such as George IV’s coronation chair, panels carved for Henry VIII’s banqueting tents, the fireplace, carved from a single monumental block of chalk and designed by Holbein and even cushions on chairs that allegedly have been worked by Queen Elizabeth I. And don’t get us started on the magnificent gardens surrounding the mansion. Open in the summer months.
Guildford GU3 1HS
The parklands where Henry VIII once built a hunting lodge are now slightly less impressive – since the original Nonsuch Palace, a key work of English Renaissance had been demolished some 400 years ago – but still lovely. There is a gorgeous Georgian mansion on the site, as well as a unique Service Wing Museum that boasts a Victorian kitchen, larders (or pantries, as the Georgians would have called them), a dairy and a fascinating collection of stained glass.
Nonsuch Park, Ewell, Sutton
Filled with exciting exhibits documenting the history of Wimbledon from about 500,000 years ago (yes, really) to the modern day, the Museum of Wimbledon’s highlights include a small collection of turn-of-the-century toys (creepy yet fascinating), a prehistorical hand axe found in the grounds of Merton Abbey, a 1917 Wimbledon Theatre Programme, model mansions, and even objects and records relating to the campaign for Women’s Suffrage in Wimbledon. All in all – a captivating collection of various items precious to people long gone.
22 Ridgway, London SW19 4QN
Adjoining Kingston Library, the Kingston Museum runs a varied programme of fascinating exhibitions, displays and events. In its possession are items excavated during archaeological digs throughout the borough, including woolly mammoth teeth from the Ice Age and a hand axe made 250,000 years ago, as well as Bronze Age weapons and gold coins made during the Iron Age. There’s more, of course – a plethora of oil paintings, drawings and local history prints, gorgeous ceramics spanning many decades, and even a small collection of films of the local area.
Wheatfield Way, Kingston upon Thames KT1 2PS
Opened in 1976 to commemorate the impressive legacy of windmills and milling, as well as local history, Wimbledon Windmill Museum is definitely on the traditional side, with a diorama illustrating the construction of the windmill, a collection of the tools of a Norfolk millwright, and a reproduction of the Great Spur Wheel. But there’s more – including scouting and Wombles. Yes, Wombles – they live on Wimbledon Common, after all.
Windmill Rd, London SW19 5NR
Another of the fascinating local archives, the Museum of Croydon holds over 1000 collections relating to what is now the London Borough of Croydon – from historical photographs to 17th-century paintings to the Riesco Collection of Chinese ceramics. Their programme of temporary exhibitions is impressive as well (including, among other things, Windrush celebrations and Kerala masks), so do keep an eye on their website.
Croydon Clocktower, Katharine Street, CR9 1ET
Dating back to the mid-17th century, with Victorian and Edwardian extensions, Honeywood Museum is a charming Grade II listed building situated just next to equally charming Carshalton Ponds. Some of the gorgeous rooms filled with historical artifacts telling the story of former inhabitants of the house, as well as the development of Carshalton from its entry as Aultone in the Doomsday Book include Billiards Room, Drawing Room and Victorian Scullery.
Honeywood Walk, Carshalton SM5 3NX
Located in Morden Library, Merton Heritage Centre boasts a massive collection of all things local, throughout the centuries. It holds local history information on Colliers Wood, Merton, Mitcham, Morden, Pollards Hill, Raynes Park, Wimbledon and West Barnes, including photographs, registers and trade directories, agenda books, history periodicals, and much more. They also run a lively programme of talks, lectures and exhibitions on local history.
Morden Library, London Rd, Morden SM4 5DX
Richmond depictions in art, Richmond architecture, Richmond craftsmanship, Richmond parks – and more. The Museum of Richmond has accumulated dozens upon dozens of fascinating artifacts documenting local stories and histories, from archaeological excavations to the 17th-century wedding dress to the modern day. And they are always on the lookout for more – so if you have anything of local historical interest, do contact the curator.
Old Town Hall, Whittaker Ave, Richmond TW9 1TP
Founded in 1983, Wandle Industrial Museum is determined to preserve the legacy of the industries (and people behind them) that used the power of the River Wandle. This includes Young’s Brewery at Wandsworth, William Morris and Liberty’s at Merton, lavender, snuff and dye industries, mills in Croydon, Carshalton, Mitcham, Merton, Wimbledon and Wandsworth and even the Merton Priory. They have displays about the most famous people of the region, as well as models, films and pictures. A gem for any local patriot.
Vestry Hall Annexe, London Rd, Mitcham CR4 3UD
Built in 1838 as a result of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, Spike Heritage Centre is a testament to what we now call a welfare system. It is both captivating and rather grim insight to how the homeless were taken care of by the state – the rooms include working cells where vagrants had to do to earn their keep, casual’s ward, bathrooms, and waiting rooms.
Warren Rd, Guildford GU1 3JH
24 Ash Museum
Situated in the Cemetery Chapel in Ash Cemetery, Ash Museum tells a fascinating story of the area and life (and death) in the local community throughout the centuries. The main highlight is a hand-pulled funeral bier which was still in use until the 1970s – other exhibits include the trowel used to lay the foundation stone of the Victoria Hall and the Crucifix in the Bottle made by POW Annunziata Alfonso when Italian Prisoners of War were kept at Carfax Avenue.
Ash Church Rd, Ash, Surrey GU12 6LX
Chiefly interested in the local history of Teddington, Twickenham, Whitton and the Hamptons, Twickenham Museum is home to many a fascinating exhibition. There you can find pictures and graphics on the borough’s lost houses, sporting history, royal celebrations throughout 19th and 20th centuries, boatbuilding and other watercraft, and many other niche areas of local history.
25 The Embankment, Twickenham TW1 3DU
Chertsey Museum – the museum for the borough of Runnymede – runs a lively and diverse programme of temporary exhibitions and interesting activities. In its collections are many gems of significance both local and national, including the spectacular Olive Matthews Collection which consists of over 4,000 men’s, women’s and children’s fashionable clothes dating from c.1700 to the present, as well as a captivating horology collection that exemplifies the area’s rich clockmaking traditions.
The Cedars, 33 Windsor St, Chertsey KT16 8AT
At the heart of the village of Cheam lies Whitehall – a timber-framed historic house museum dating back to around 1500. It is thought to have been a wattle and daub yeoman farmer’s house but the opinion about the building’s origins is divided – it might have been also intended as a meeting or council house. Over the years, details from the Stuart, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras were added to create an eclectic construction you can visit today to see exhibitions about the history of the house and the local area, relax in the garden or partake in one of many activities and events.
1 Malden Road, Cheam, Surrey SM3 8QD
This independent museum run entirely by volunteers tells the story of Dorking dating back to prehistoric times (some 100 million years ago) until the modern-day. Expect all sorts of local history gems, from household knick-knacks to wartime memorabilia and priceless paintings. Currently closed for repairs. Do check the website for reopening info.
62 West St, Dorking RH4 1BS
Occupying part of the former Brooklands motor-racing track – the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, constructed in 1907 – the museum displays a large selection of motoring and aviation exhibits that witness to its origins as the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation. The collection consists of giant racing cars (such as the 24-litre Napier-Railton), motorcycles, bicycles, impressive flying machines, including Concorde, and even a replica of a monoplane. It also is a home to London Bus Museum which houses a remarkable collection of around 35 buses and coaches.
Brooklands Road, Weybridge KT13 0SL
Image credit: Oast House Archive (1st image)
Sheltered by high walls, Chelsea Physic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in London. Founded 350 years ago by The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, it was designed to focus exclusively on medicinal, herbal and useful plants. Nowadays, take a leisurely stroll and explore their permanent collections, partake in one of many fab events, or grab a coffee in their lovely café.
66 Royal Hospital Rd, London SW3 4HS
The impressive collection, amassed over 50 years, includes many a precious exhibit (some 700 of them, in fact) – such as a machine that was given to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter for her wedding or an authentic Thimonnier wooden sewing machine that apparently still works. It really is something of a paradise for all sewing aficionados out there.
Balham High Rd, Tooting Bec, London SW17 7BA
The largest tennis museum in the world, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum explores the history and traditions behind the famous tournament, from an extensive collection of trophies to decorative arts and ephemera to tennis fashions dating back to the Victorian era. Highlights of the collection include ‘E.G.M.’ racket used by Reginald Doherty in The Championships 1897, William Renshaw’s tilt-headed racket from the 1870s, 19th-century tennis jewellery and a trade token depicting a real tennis racket from 1650s. You can also take a behind-the-scenes tours of the Grounds to see the press interview room and find out how the famous Wimbledon grass is being taken care of.
Church Rd, London SW19 5AE
As grandiose as it sounds, Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare is a small, Grade-I listed garden folly at Hampton. It was erected by the famous actor and theatre manager David Garrick to honour Shakespeare and now can be visited every Sunday afternoon in spring and summer. It also runs an educational programme for local schoolchildren and hosts many niche music events, including harpsichord recitals and lutenist performances.
Hampton Ct Rd, Hampton TW12 2EJ
A local landmark formally since 1996 (and informally since 1983), the World Rugby Museum is a must-visit point for every sports buff. The permanent galleries feature a rotating selection drawn from the whooping 41,000 objects – and yes, they are all related to rugby in one way or another. Grab a VIP pass to the stadium and take a seat in the England Changing Room, run out of the players’ tunnel to take in the view pitch-side and explore a range of trophies from across the decades. And don’t forget about the Museum’s most prized possession – JH Clayton’s jersey from the first ever international in 1871.
Stadium, 200 Whitton Rd, Twickenham TW2 7BA
Top-secret corridors, a room from which Churchill pledged to “direct the war”, the original Number 10 Downing Street door and even sugar cubes left behind by Wing Commander John Heagerty are all on display in Churchill War Rooms. It really is one fascinating museum – do head out on a guided or self-guided tour or partake in one of many events hosted by the Museum.
Clive Steps, King Charles St, London SW1A 2AQ
Victoria & Albert probably needs no introduction: as the world’s leading museum of art and design, it houses over 2.3 million objects (!!!) that span 5,000 years. And that’s just the permanent collection. They really have everything: from RIBA’s holdings of over 330 drawings by Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio to the 10th-century Islamic Rock crystal ewer to an 18th-century tiger automaton created for Tipu Sultan to manuscripts of Charles Dickens’ novels.
Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL
What is perhaps the most surprising when it comes to National Army Museum is how family-friendly it really is. They have a Play Base where your little ones can climb aboard a truck and take on a soft play assault course, plus a whole host of family workshops, events and performances. For the grown-ups however, the museum contains the world’s largest collection of objects relating to the British Army and other Land Forces of the Crown (including the former Indian Army). 58,000 printed books and periodicals, 23,000 items of equipment and vehicles, over 240,000 photographs, and 3,670 maps and charts are all included in the repository – the museum also encourages on-site study and research via its Templer Study Centre.
Royal Hospital Rd, London SW3 4HT
Dating back 170 years, Science Museum is a lot of fun. With many activities for everyone to enjoy and a world-class collection of all things science, it is definitely a one not to miss. Head to Wonderlab to take part in one of many shows that take place there or simply take a stroll among countless scientific, technological and medical.
Exhibition Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD
A little bit further afield, London Transport Museum offers a stunning collection highlighting the history of the Capital’s commute over the past two centuries. Amassing 500,000 items, including an impressive collection of 100,000 photos, it provides a fascinating insight into the connection between transport and the growth of modern London.
The Piazza, London WC2E 7BB